Published December 20, 2011
HARDING, N.J. – Two investment bankers were among five people killed Tuesday when a small plane crashed on a New Jersey highway.
Jeffrey F. Buckalew, 45, and Rakesh Chawla, 36, worked in the New York offices of Greenhill and Company, the firm said in a statement. Buckalew owned the plane and was piloting it.
The other victims were believed to be Buckalew's wife, Corinne, and their two children, Jackson and Meriwether, according to the statement.
The single-engine Socata TMB-700 went down on Interstate 287 in Harding, N.J., at 10:04am.
It had taken off from Teterboro Airport in Bergen County -- about 33 miles east of Harding -- at around 9:50am, and was flying at an altitude of 17,500 feet before it crashed, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spokesman Bob Gretz said at a press conference Tuesday.
A fire erupted after the crash, and debris were spread in a half-mile radius from the impact site, Gretz said.
A neighbor told the New York Post that the Buckalews were "a beautiful family" with "gorgeous children" who were headed to Atlanta for a family trip.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Jim Peters confirmed three adults and two children died in the crash, but officials have not confirmed the identities of any of the victims. A dog was also killed, Peters said.
It was not known what caused the plane to go down. Gretz said a complete fact-finding investigation would take six to 12 months.
The plane had been in contact with an FAA radar facility in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., and lost communication shortly before the crash.
Gretz said the pilot had been speaking to the FAA about icing. It was not immediately known if the pilot was referring to ice in the clouds or on the aircraft, but the communication was described by Gretz as a conversation, "not a distress call."
No one was injured on the ground when the plane went down, but a pickup truck narrowly missed it, according to Gretz.
There were conflicting witness reports about the crash, with some saying the plane was intact until it hit the ground and others saying it broke apart in the air.
The FAA, NTSB and New Jersey State Police are investigating. New Jersey State Police spokesman Stephen Jones said portions of I-287 in both directions would be closed until around 10:00pm Tuesday.